The American Bear


Every 28 Hours an African American is Extrajudicially Executed in the U.S. | Dispatches from the Underclass

Every 28 hours a black woman, man or child in the United States is executed by a person employed or protected by the US government according to a year-long investigation by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM), which has thus far been virtually ignored by the news media, progressive outlets included.

Following the murder of Trayvon Martin, the MXGM embarked on a year-long study to determine the prevalence of extrajudicial killings of black Americans. The organization initially recorded around 120 killings in the first half of 2012, which came out to one black person murdered every 36 hours. That number climbed to 313 by the end of last year, forcing the MXGM to update its findings to every 28 hours in their latest report, titled “Operation Ghetto Storm“. That’s almost one black American killed every day by law enforcement, security guards and/or vigilantes, which the MXGM believes is more accurate since their numbers reflect only those killings that are reported by police departments and the news media. As the organization points out in the report, there exists no national tracking of police-involved shootings, so it’s impossible to know the full extent of the crisis.

The largest portion of those killed in 2012 (40 percent) were between the ages of 22 to 31, followed by 18 to 21 year olds at 18 percent. Children made up 8 percent of extrajudicially executed black Americans.

Furthermore, 44 percent of those killed were unarmed while 27 percent were “allegedly” armed, meaning police claimed the victim was armed but no corroborating evidence existed to prove this was the case. Only 13 percent of those killed were said to have “fired a weapon either before or during the officer’s arrival”, according to the MXGM.

One of the report’s most damning findings is the sheer lack of accountability for these killings. Thus far, less than 9 percent of those responsible for the deaths have faced charges, almost all of whom are security guards or vigilantees and all of which have yet to be determined. Despite the fact that an overwhelming number of the victims were definitively unarmed, only 3 percent of officers officers responsible for the deaths have been charged: “3 for vehicular crimes stemming from their crashes, 5 for manslaughter—the killers of Remarley Graham, Wendell Allen, Dane Garrett Scott Jr, Christopher Brown, and Bobby Moore Jr.”

And the justifications are almost always the same: “I felt threatened”, “he reached for his waistband to get what I thought was a gun”, “he was acting suspiciously”, etc. All are based on personal perceptions that are no doubt influenced by racial stereotypes, given that every American is surrounded by a culture that conditions them to fear the “criminal black man”.

This isn’t speculation. Study after study has confirmed the lethal consequences of the black-as-criminal stereotype. [must read]

Obama Finally Talks Drone War, But It's Almost Impossible to Believe Him | Noah Shachtman

President Obama doesn’t like to talk about how he uses drones to kill suspected militants — including American citizens. Explanations about who gets picked for remote-control death and who does the picking are left to underlings and aides. Just a few days ago, for example, Obama blew off a local Cincinnati television reporter who asked the president about his “kill list.”

On Wednesday, however, CNN’s Jessica Yellin managed to get Obama to open up, just a little, about his criteria for approving drone attacks. His comments may have been the president’s most extensive so far on robot warfare. They were also total baloney, outside experts say.

As the Bureau of Investigative Journalism notes, Obama told CNN that a terror suspect had to pass five tests before the administration would allow him to be taken out by a drone. “Drones are one tool that we use, and our criteria for using them is very tight and very strict,” the president said.

1 “It has to be a target that is authorised by our laws.”

2 “It has to be a threat that is serious and not speculative.”

3 “It has to be a situation in which we can’t capture the individual before they move forward on some sort of operational plot against the United States.”

4 “We’ve got to make sure that in whatever operations we conduct, we are very careful about avoiding civilian casualties.”

5 “That while there is a legal justification for us to try and stop [American citizens] from carrying out plots … they are subject to the protections of the Constitution and due process.”

At least two of those five points appear to be half-truths at best. In both Yemen and Pakistan, the CIA is allowed to launch a strike based on the target’s “signature” — that is, whether he appears to look and act like a terrorist. As senior U.S. officials have repeatedly confirmed, intelligence analysts don’t even have to know the target’s name, let alone whether he’s planning to attack the U.S. In some cases, merely being a military-aged male at the wrong place at the wrong time is enough to justify your death.

“What I found most striking was his claim that legitimate targets are a ‘threat that is serious and not speculative,’ and engaged in ‘some operational plot against the United States,’ That is simply not true,” emails the Council on Foreign Relations’ Micah Zenko, who has tracked the drone war as closely as any outside analyst. “The claim that the 3,000+ people killed in roughly 375 nonbattlefield targeted killings were all engaged in actual operational plots against the U.S. defies any understanding of the scope of what America has been doing for the past ten years.”

A third point — that an American citizen is given the “protections of the Constitution” before he’s approved for unmanned killing — is dubious. Yes, there is a process that the White House uses to vet proposed drone targets. Several government officials review a suspected terrorist’s dossier before an attack on that person is okayed. This is an internal review by presidential aides, not subject to any kind of independent authority, and obviously not one in which a target’s representatives can contest the case. It’s enough to condemn someone to death. The Obama administration has argued that this is the same as the “due process of law” guaranteed in the Bill of Rights.

Legal scholars have found the argument flimsy — with no coherent standard of evidence that amounts to an instant death sentence, and no limits to where that sentence can be carried out. in a January Google Hangout — one of the few other times Obama has even mentioned the drone campaign — he said that targeting decisions were not managed by “a bunch of folks in a room somewhere just making decisions.” Actually, it appears to be something rather close to that.

When Yellin pressed further, asking Obama if he himself made the ultimate decisions about who should live and who should die, Obama demurred, saying, “I’ve got to be careful here. There are classified issues… I can’t get too deeply into how these things work.”

But, as Zenko notes, “that is total BS. The President has the authority to declassify anything. That authority was reaffirmed by the White House in one of its first executive orders,” issued in 2009. If the president felt like talking about the drone approval process, he could. Obama doesn’t have to leave the discussion up to unnamed officials, former subordinates, and authored leakers. He chooses to do so, presumably because the issues involved are so thorny.

Twice in the interview, Obama complained about “misreporting” by the media about the drone campaign. “A lot of what you read in the press that purports to be accurate isn’t always accurate,” Obama said. What he didn’t mention was his own role in perpetuating the confusion.

Kill or Capture: Obama's Troubling Targeted-Killing Policy (2) | Steve Coll

[There is disturbing] evidence in [Daniel] Klaidman’s narrative suggesting that the Obama Administration leans toward killing terrorism suspects because it does not believe it has a politically attractive way to put them on trial. Federal criminal trials of terrorist suspects draw howls of protest from many Republicans, even though the George W. Bush Administration successfully prosecuted a number of high-profile terrorists in federal court. Military commissions, the Obama Administration’s reluctantly endorsed best-of-the-bad alternative to federal trials, are unpopular with civil-rights activists and European allies, for good reason, because of their relatively weak protections for defendants. But is political discomfort about this choice of trial venues a reason to override the Fifth Amendment, in the case of a targeted American citizen like Awlaki? Doesn’t the case-by-case application of the due-process clause require some extraordinary finding by the president that capture is not possible? Shouldn’t there be a bias in operations, when an American citizen is involved, toward making an arrest?

“Come out with your hands up” may have been Hollywood’s whitewashed reimagining of how sheriffs warned suspected killers to surrender and face trial in the Wild West, or how G-men warned barricaded bank robbers to give up before they met death. Yet the words became cliché for a reason: they had the ring of justice even in the midst of tense scenes ridden with risk and the possibility of sudden violence.

“To me, the weakness in the drone activity is that if there’s no one on the ground, and the person puts his hands out, he can’t surrender,” the retired vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General James Cartwright, told the journalist Tara McKelvey earlier this year. “What makes it worse with a Predator is you’re actually watching it. You know when he puts his hands up.”

Holder and other Obama Administration legal hands have told Congress that they are convinced, after repeated reviews of classified evidence about targeted terrorism suspects, that the Obama Administration’s secret process for placing Al Qaeda leaders and operatives on death lists is careful, legal, and sound—even though a number of cases of mistaken targeting have been documented publicly.

None of Obama’s legal advisers has testified similarly about what secret system and classified legal memos may exist for judging, in the case of an American citizen targeted overseas, whether and why a capture attempt may be feasible. Congress has the power to force such statements onto the public record. It must try; it is obvious by now that the Obama Administration will not volunteer them. Is “kill or capture” a policy, or are the words just a screen for politically convenient targeted killings?

Drone strikes: There is no moralising the indefensible (2) | Faisal Moghul

It is not surprising that ‘terrorism’ has become the bogeyman, in whose name, every last lunacy of the government can be justified; including committing acts that would otherwise be illegal and anathema to any civilised society. Using predator drones, equipped with hellfire missiles to summarily execute people based on ‘suspicious’ activities, without any due process of law, and even at the cost of substantial civilian deaths, all seem to be forgiven.

Ignoring for a moment the bogus methodology of counting all military aged males in a drone strike zone as combatants, the focus on civilian casualties of drone attacks seems to miss the bigger question. This was neatly summarised by Dr Paul Craig Roberts, former assistant secretary of the treasury;

It has never been revealed how a single citizen, or any number thereof, could possibly comprise a threat to a government that has a trillion plus dollars to spend each year on security and weapons, the world’s largest navy and air force, 700 plus military bases across the world, large numbers of nuclear weapons, 16 intelligence agencies plus the intelligence agencies of its NATO puppet states and the intelligence service of Israel.

It has also never been adequately explained why the most powerful military superpower in history, which overcame the mighty Wehrmacht, crushed the Imperial Japanese Army, and stared down a nuclear armed Soviet Union in an existential contest of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD), now considers it necessary to carry out state sponsored assassinations, based on mere suspicion, of individuals who have none of the resources, technological sophistication, or military prowess of its erstwhile enemies.


A vital (and unlearned) lesson from Julius Caesar | Glenn Greenwald

[…] If you’re faced with this question — should President X have the power to impose Punishment Y on Bad Person Z? — and you answer in the affirmative based on your adoration for or trust in current President X, or your belief in the wisdom and justness of Punishment Y in the specific proposed case, or your acute scorn for Bad Person Z, you’re actually doing much more than ratifying this power in a single instance, even if that’s your intention. Whether desired or not, you’re affirming — and entrenching — the legitimacy of the principle itself, ensuring that this power will be exploited in ways you can’t control. When enshrined without checks, the endorsed punishment power will inevitably — necessarily — endure, and even grow, beyond the reign of the leader you trust to future leaders you don’t, and will be applied against not only those you believe are deserving of it but those you know are not.

In our contemporary political debates, “Punishment Y” can be limitless, secret surveillance, and torture, and due-process-free and oversight-less citizen assassinations ordered in the dark, and indefinite detention, and extra-judicial killings carried out by drones. As for the question Caesar posed — when a future malevolent leader, “with this precedent before him,” shall invoke this newly created power in malignant ways, “who shall limit or restrain him?” — the answer is: nobody. That’s the point of his rhetorical inquiry. He even answered it himself: “All bad precedents have originated in cases which were good; but when the control of the government falls into the hands of men who are incompetent or bad, your new precedent is transferred from those who well deserve and merit such punishment to the undeserving and blameless.”

When that happens — and it will, if it isn’t already happening — those who bear the greatest culpability will be those who cheered for the precedent in the first instance without regard for what they were endorsing. [++]

ACLU Sues U.S. for Information on Targeted Killing Program | ACLU Blog of Rights

Today we filed a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act to demand that the government release basic — and accurate — information about the government’s targeted killing program.

Our government’s deliberate and premeditated killing of American terrorism suspects raises profound questions that ought to be the subject of public debate. Unfortunately the Obama administration has released very little information about the practice — its official position is that the targeted killing program is a state secret — and some of the information it has released has been misleading.

Our suit overlaps with the one recently filed by The New York Times insofar as it seeks the legal memos on which the targeted killing program is based. But our suit is broader. We’re seeking, in addition to the legal memos, the government’s evidentiary basis for strikes that killed three Americans in Yemen in the fall of 2011. We’re also seeking information about the process by which the administration adds Americans to secret government “kill lists.” We think it’s crucial that the administration release the legal memos, but we don’t think the memos alone will allow the public to evaluate the lawfulness and wisdom of the program.

We know something about the fall 2011 strikes from media reports. On September 30, the CIA and the military’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) jointly carried out the targeted killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen born in New Mexico, using missiles fired from unmanned drones in Yemen. A second U.S. citizen, Samir Khan, was killed in the same attack. Two weeks later, Anwar al-Awlaki’s son, Abdulrahman, a 16-year-old U.S. citizen born in Colorado, was killed in another U.S. drone strike elsewhere in Yemen. The administration has not adequately explained the legal basis for these strikes, and it has not explained the factual basis, either.

Leon Panetta’s explicitly authoritarian decree | Glenn Greenwald

At the beginning, we reject the idea that, when the United States acts against citizens abroad, it can do so free of the Bill of Rights. The United States is entirely a creature of the Constitution.  Its power and authority have no other source. It can only act in accordance with all the limitations imposed by the Constitution. When the Government reaches out to punish a citizen who is abroad, the shield which the Bill of Rights and other parts of the Constitution provide to protect his life and liberty should not be stripped away just because he happens to be in another land. This is not a novel concept. To the contrary, it is as old as government. - Reid v. Covert, 1956


The very same faction that pretended for years to be so distraught by Bush’s mere eavesdropping on and detention of accused Terrorists without due process is now perfectly content to have their own President kill accused Terrorists without due process, even when those targeted are their fellow citizens: obviously a far more Draconian and permanent abuse than eavesdropping or detention (identically, the very same faction that objected to Bush’s radical whole-world-is-a-Battlefield theory now must embrace exactly that theory to justify how someone riding in a car, or sitting at home, or sleeping in his bed, in a country where no war is declared, is “on a battlefield” at the time the CIA ends his life).

It is equally false, and independently both misleading and perverse, for Panetta to assert that a citizen in [Anwar al] Awlaki’s position could come to the U.S. to assert his due process rights. For one thing, Awlaki was never charged or indicted for anything in the U.S. — he was simply executed without any charges (the Obama administration, after trying to kill him, reportedly “considered” charging him with crimes at one point but never did) – and thus, there was nothing to which he could “turn himself” in even if he wanted to. Even worse, President Obama’s hit list of those he approves for assassination is completely secret; we only learned that Awlaki was being targeted because someone happened to leak that fact to Dana Priest. The way the process normally works, as Reuters described it, is that targeted Americans are selected “by a secretive panel of senior government officials, which then informs the president of its decisions”; moreover, “there is no public record of the operations or decisions of the panel” nor “any law establishing its existence or setting out the rules by which it is supposed to operate.” So, absent a fortuitous leak (acts for which the Obama administration is vindictively doling out the most severe punishment), it would be impossible for American citizens to know that they’ve been selected for execution by President Obama (and thus obviously impossible to to assert one’s due process rights to stop it).


Here we have the U.S. Defense Secretary, life-long Democrat Leon Panetta, telling you as clearly as he can that this is exactly the operating premise of the administration in which he serves: once the President accuses you of being a Terrorist, a decision made in secert and with no checks or due process, we can do anything we want to you, including executing you wherever we find you. It’s hard to know what’s more extraordinary: that he feels so comfortable saying this right out in the open, or that so few people seem to mind.

Every now and then it’s worth pausing to reflect on how often we talk about the killing of people by the U.S. Literally, the U.S. government is just continuously killing people in multiple countries around the world. Who else does that? Nobody — certainly nowhere near on this scale. The U.S. President expressly claims the power to target anyone he wants, anywhere in the world, for death, including his own citizens; he does it in total secrecy and with no oversight; and this power is not just asserted but routinely exercised. The U.S., over and over, eradicates people’s lives by the dozens from the sky, with bombs, with checkpoint shootings, with night raids — in far more places and far more frequently than any other nation or group on the planet. Those are just facts. Glenn Greenwald

The killing of Awlaki’s 16-year-old son | Glenn Greenwald

You can offer the ability to citizens to choose from one of the two parties and elect their leaders as much as you want. But “democracy” is an illusion — a sham — if the most significant acts taken by those leaders are kept concealed from the citizenry. Dana Priest and William Arkin wrote a multi-part series, and followed it up with a book, describing “Top Secret America”: the sprawling, secret government/private-sector apparatus accountable to nobody. Leaks and whistleblowers are the only real avenue remaining for citizens to know what their government does, and it’s why the Obama administration is so obsessed with persecuting whistleblowers, crushing WikiLeaks, and now even trying to imprison one of the nation’s best investigative journalists.

For many people, this type of secrecy is not bothersome because — when their party controls the White House — they trust their leader to be honest and act properly; that’s what Bush followers who viewed Bush as a good, earnest Christian constantly said in response to objections over radical secrecy, and it’s what many Obama followers say now (if Obama says someone is a Terrorist, I don’t need to see evidence: I’m sure he is – if Obama says Iran is behind a Terrorist plot, I don’t need to see evidence: I’m sure they are). But that obviously isn’t a healthy mindset when forming expectations of political leaders. More so, you can’t have a functioning democracy if the government refuses even to discuss its most radical and significant acts. The Obama administration is just off waging a secret war in Yemen, killing its own citizens from the sky, and refusing to account to anyone for what it’s doing. If you accept that level of secrecy, what don’t you accept?

An American Teen-ager in Yemen

Here is a birth certificate, for a boy who was born in Denver, Colorado, on September 13, 1995. (Via the Washington Post.) He turned sixteen a month ago, and a few days ago he died, killed when one of his country’s drones hit him and a number of other people in Yemen. His name was Abdulrahman al-Awlaki. His father, Anwar al-Awlaki, who, as the birth certificate notes, was himself born in New Mexico, and was twenty-four years older than his son, was killed a couple of weeks ago, in a separate attack. The father was targeted for assassination. He was an American citizen, and there were no judicial proceedings against him, just, reportedly, a White House legal opinion that concluded that it would be fine to kill him anyway, because the Administration thought he was dangerous. Anwar al-Awlaki was a member of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and wrote angry and ugly sermons for them. The Administration says that it had to kill him because he had become “operational,” but so far it has kept the evidence for that to itself.

Was the son targeted, too? The Yemeni government says that another person, a grown man, was the target in the attack that killed Abdulrahman. Maybe he was just in the wrong place, like the Yemeni seventeen-year-old who reportedly died, too. Abdulrahman’s family said that he had been at a barbecue, and told the Post that they were speaking to the paper to answer reports said that Abdulrahman was a fighter in his twenties. Looking at his birth certificate, one wonders what those assertions say either about the the quality of the government’s evidence—or the honesty of its claims—and about our own capacity for self-deception. Where does the Obama Administration see the limits of its right to kill an American citizen without a trial? (The last time I wrote about Awlaki, a reader commented that “Awlaki was a citizen in name only”; but that name is the name of the law, and is, when it comes down to it, all any of us have, unless we want to rely on how charming our government finds us.) And what are the protections for an American child?

You can, in many ways, blame Abdulrahman’s death on his father—for not staying in Colorado, for introducing his son to the wrong people, for being who he was. That would be a fair part of an assessment of Anwar al-Awlaki’s character. But it’s not sufficient. He may have put his child in a bad situation, but we were the ones with the drone. One fault does not preclude another. We have to ask ourselves what we are doing, and at what cost.

(Source: azspot)


Birth certificate of Awlaqi’s son “Abdulrahman” who was killed in a drone in October 14th, this certificate proves that Abdulrahman is a 16 years old American citizen not 21 as falsely reported. 

via News of the Yemeni revolution (from the Yemen Post):
Abdul rahman al-Awlaki, the cleric’s son ran away from home after news of his father’s death in a desperate bid to find him. He was killed subsequently in an American air raid this Friday.
… Abdu Rahman al-Awlaki who was like his father a U.S citizen, was killed with his cousin, also a 17 year-old, in an American led Drone attack, which the U.S is justifying by claiming they were after alleged al-Qaeda militants.
Since the death of the 2 underage boys, the U.S has been trying to spin the story by issuing a statement describing Abdu Rahman as a 20 year-old al-Qaeda militant, when indeed he was only a boy searching for his father. U.S officials have now said that they were still assessing the details of the attack and sorting their findings, stressing that “usually” the Pentagon was focusing on senior al-Qaeda targets, not teenagers.


Birth certificate of Awlaqi’s son “Abdulrahman” who was killed in a drone in October 14th, this certificate proves that Abdulrahman is a 16 years old American citizen not 21 as falsely reported. 

via News of the Yemeni revolution (from the Yemen Post):

Abdul rahman al-Awlaki, the cleric’s son ran away from home after news of his father’s death in a desperate bid to find him. He was killed subsequently in an American air raid this Friday.

… Abdu Rahman al-Awlaki who was like his father a U.S citizen, was killed with his cousin, also a 17 year-old, in an American led Drone attack, which the U.S is justifying by claiming they were after alleged al-Qaeda militants.

Since the death of the 2 underage boys, the U.S has been trying to spin the story by issuing a statement describing Abdu Rahman as a 20 year-old al-Qaeda militant, when indeed he was only a boy searching for his father. U.S officials have now said that they were still assessing the details of the attack and sorting their findings, stressing that “usually” the Pentagon was focusing on senior al-Qaeda targets, not teenagers.

(via darling80m-deactivated20121120)

The withholding of the legal basis for targeting al-Awlaki is inappropriate for two reasons. First, the world already knows that the U.S. killed al-Awlaki; how could it possibly harm national security to disclose why the Justice Department believes the killing was legal? Second, unless rejected by the President or superseded by a court ruling, OLC’s legal interpretations are binding on the executive branch. Undisclosed OLC opinions are therefore a kind of “secret law,” something that has no place in a democracy. Elizabeth Goitein

The Awlaki memo and Marty Lederman | Glenn Greenwald

The reason we have separation of powers is precisely because the President’s personal appointees, even when well-intentioned and basically honest, cannot be counted on to impose meaningful accountability; the Founders warned long ago that the institutional pressures would prevent genuine checks and balances.  We need a separate branch — in the form of Congressional oversight or, in this case, Article III courts not beholden to the President — to make these judgments. The Obama administration could have argued to a court that it had the legal authority and justification to kill Awlaki when it was sued by the ACLU and CCR, but instead chose to hide behind secrecy and standing arguments to avoid doing so, opting instead to rely on the purported secret legal “authority” furnished by the President’s partisan underlings.

More and more, this is how the most vital matters in our democracy are decided: by secret deliberations among the President’s partisan lawyers. Charlie Savage recently gave a speech at a National Security and Civil Liberties conference at Harvard Law School, and he was preceded by President Obama’s top Terrorism adviser, John Brennan.  Brennan had implicitly criticized Savage for publishing an article earlier that week detailing the disagreements among Executive Branch lawyers over the President’s War on Terror powers, and this is what Savage said in reply:

There have been a lot of lessons learned in the decade that has passed since 9/11, but one of them, I think, is that executive branch legal interpretations matter enormously. It is so rare for one of these weighty issues of war powers to be decided on the merits by the courts because they are almost never justiciable. It is also rare for them to be decided by Congress, which is increasingly too dysfunctional to be coherent about anything …

As the administration debates the legality of taking such steps, I am sure that some in the government would prefer that the disputes not make their way to the public eye. But I believe that would not be in the national interest. Because for these and so many of the weighty events of the past decade, it was executive branch decision making– and executive branch lawyering – on which everything turned.

Secret U.S. Memo Made Legal Case to Kill a Citizen | New York Times

The Obama administration’s secret legal memorandum that opened the door to the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born radical Muslim cleric hiding in Yemen, found that it would be lawful only if it were not feasible to take him alive, according to people who have read the document.

The memo, written last year, followed months of extensive interagency deliberations and offers a glimpse into the legal debate that led to one of the most significant decisions made by President Obama to move ahead with the killing of an American citizen without a trial.

The secret document provided the justification for acting despite an executive order banning assassinations, a federal law against murder, protections in the Bill of Rights and various strictures of the international laws of war, according to people familiar with the analysis. The memo, however, was narrowly drawn to the specifics of Mr. Awlaki’s case and did not establish a broad new legal doctrine to permit the targeted killing of any Americans deemed to pose a terrorist threat.

The Obama administration has refused to acknowledge or discuss its role in the drone strike that killed Mr. Awlaki last month and that technically remains a covert operation. The government has also resisted growing calls that it provide a detailed public explanation of why officials deemed it lawful to kill an American citizen, setting a precedent that scholars, rights activists and others say has raised concerns about the rule of law and civil liberties.

(Source: rubenfeld, via pieceinthepuzzlehumanity-deacti)